Last week we told you about Mike Rowe’s honest and superb Facebook post on the pandemic and the distrust of those in power pushing the vaccines by the a large segment of the American people.
After his post went viral, a writer for the Never Trump publication, The Bulwark, wrote a smear piece to discredit Rowe and accuse him of “despicable dishonesty or breathtaking stupidity”.
Mike Rowe has now responded to the smear piece with a line-by-line take-down of the article and the author’s “reprehensible, and cowardly” attempt “to mischaracterize” what Rowe said, and to “deliberately misinform” his readers.
You can read Rowe’s full response below, and I’ve sectioned off each line-by-line quote and response by Rowe to make it a bit easier to follow. It’s a lot of reading but I highly recommend all of it. If you just want the bottom line, skip to the bottom two quotes. However you’d be missing a terrific Mike Rowe schooling in the process.
Off the Wall
Here’s a delightful headline, followed by a charming article, written by a guy named Jonathan V. Last. I don’t think he likes me. Strap in. It’s a doozy.
MIKE ROWE’S DIRTY LIES
The voice of the working class goes anti-anti-anti-vaxx.
Mike Rowe—the famous real man, dirty-jobbing, tough guy—is trying to pioneer a new lane in political discourse: anti-anti-anti-vaxx. In a Facebook post this week, Rowe decided to answer a question from one of his fans. The gentleman asked why, since Rowe had gotten a COVID vaccine, he had not used his platform to urge others to do so. Rowe’s response is worth reading in full, because it is either an example of despicable dishonesty or breathtaking stupidity.
Along with “despicable dishonesty and breathtaking stupidity,” I’d like to offer a few additional options for you readers to consider. How about, “a refreshingly honest take on a controversial issue,” or “a thoughtful series of observations wrapped in a patina of common sense,” or maybe, “a brilliant blending of facts and inconvenient truths that leave the skeptical reader with much to consider.”
As you surely know, tens of millions of Americans are not even remotely persuaded by our current cadre of elected officials and health care experts. Obviously, the same was true when Trump was in office. Can you imagine the resistance to a vaccine today, if Donald Trump told Americans to simply “get the jab and trust the science?” It seems to me, if you want to persuade the unvaccinated to reconsider their hesitancy, you must first put yourself in their shoes, and acknowledge a few of the reasons for their skepticism.
Also, I’m puzzled by your sub-head. If “anti-vaxx” means I’m against vaccines, “anti-anti-vaxx” would mean I’m for vaccines, right? So, wouldn’t “anti-anti-anti-vaxx” mean I’m against vaccines? If so, you’re fundamentally mistaken. As I wrote in the very first paragraph, “Vaccines have saved more lives than any other advancement in the long history of medicine, and to your point, I got the shots the minute I was eligible.” I was careful to include that early on. You were careful to omit it. Understandable, given your headline, but not very fair, in my opinion.
JL: Rowe begins his explanation by saying, “I’m not a doctor, Steve, and even though I occasionally play one on TV, I’m not inclined to dispense medical advice to the people on this page.” And you know what? That’s fair enough. If Rowe doesn’t feel comfortable telling others what to do when it comes to public health, that’s reasonable. Except that two paragraphs later he starts asking questions about public health.
MR: Not to nitpick but asking questions about public health is very different than telling others what to do. Don’t you think?
JL: Rowe says the following: The fact is, millions of reasonable Americans have every right to feel confused and skeptical. Those people you refer to, Steve – the ones now telling us that we can “get back to normal just as soon as everyone is vaccinated” – those are the same people who said, “two weeks to flatten the curve!” Those are the same people who told us that masks were “useless” before they told us they were “critical.” Those are the same people who told us that a return to normalcy would occur just as soon as “the most vulnerable” among us were vaccinated. Then, just as soon as “half the population” was vaccinated. Then, just as soon as we achieved “herd immunity.” Those are the same people who told us they wouldn’t trust any vaccine developed under the last administration. Now, those very same people are belittling the skeptics.”
For a guy who makes his living pretending to be concerned with grubby details, this is a wildly, irresponsibly generalized set of charges. For starters, who are “those people”? No links here. No names. Just a vague, faceless assertion so he can’t be called out on facts.
MR: It was the original poster, Jonathan, not me, who said that we can “all get back to normal when everyone gets the shot.” He didn’t attribute that sentiment to any one individual, because he didn’t have to. It’s a widely held belief currently embraced by millions of Americans who affirmatively support a vaccine mandate. Check it out. https://53eig.ht/37sBWip
Obviously, I could have provided specific examples of people in power who favored lockdowns but went on to violate their own mandates, but I didn’t do that because those people are no longer the point. The point I was trying to make, is that half the country has lost faith in our most important institutions. We have a massive credibility problem, exacerbated by powerful people who not only moved the goalposts time and time again, but championed the same restrictions they chose to ignore. In my view, this steady drip of hypocrisy helped foster a deep level of mistrust among millions of unvaccinated Americans. If you really need specific examples, just google “COVID-political-hypocrites.” Those are the people to whom I refer, and they are legion.
JL: But the individual characterizations he makes of what “those people” supposedly said are at best misleading and at worst, patently untrue. Let’s go one by one.
“Two weeks to flatten the curve!” The idea of flattening the curve comes from late March 2020, when COVID was starting to run wild in the United States for the first time. The curve in question was the rate of new infections and the curve needed to be flattened because it’s increase was so steep that it was nearly an asymptote. The country faced a shortage of PPE and doctors hadn’t yet come up with best practices for treating patients. Had the rate of infection continued its geometric increase, not only would a higher percentage of COVID patients have died due to lack of adequate resources to care for them, but more non-COVID patients would have died because the healthcare system would have been overrun. The idea of “flattening the curve” was never about beating COVID, but about buying the healthcare system enough time to be able to treat patients optimally. And you know what? We flattened the fucking curve, Mike. And because of that, we saved a lot of lives.
MR: I agree. In just a few weeks, we flattened the curve, and we saved lives as a result. But what did our leaders do next? Did they say, “Good job! The curve is flat! Now let’s get back to work!” No. They extended the lockdowns and offered no benchmark as to when the restrictions would be lifted. To this day, we have no criteria as to how many deaths or how many infections or how many hospitalizations are acceptable. They could have told us the truth a year ago, which was more along the lines of, “Two weeks to flatten the curve, and then, an undetermined amount of time to keep it that way.” But they didn’t do that. They simply shut us down, ratcheted up the fear, and told us to trust the science. In short, they treated us like children, and that hurt their credibility.
JL: “The same people who told us that masks were ‘useless’.” Again, it’s hard to find details about “those people” but I assume Rowe is talking about Anthony Fauci’s comments to CBS News on March 8, 2020 where he said the following: There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences — people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.
MR: You’re correct, Fauci’s contradictions were on my mind when I wrote that. So too, were his more recent comments regarding the lab leak, gain of function, and lots of other remarks that are now seen by millions of people as demonstrably false. https://bit.ly/3jvXznE But again, I didn’t mention his name, because Fauci is not going to be part of the solution. His credibility is shot, and nothing he says will convince the skeptics to rethink their skepticism. (Earlier today, he slammed the Sturgis Bike Rally as a potential super-spreader event, while saying nothing about Obama’s birthday bash, and Lollapalooza. That’s the real problem. His slip is showing, and that’s made him unpersuasive to millions.
JL: Let’s stipulate that much of the medical establishment was slow to understand that the primary transmission mechanism for COVID was aerosolization. But the point here is that even Anthony Fauci, in this big gotcha moment, didn’t say that masks were “useless.” He used a heavily lawyered construct—no reason to be walking around with a mask—which was true. Also, Fauci allowed that masks might block “a droplet” while warning that it wasn’t the “perfect protection” some people thought. Again: Both factually correct. Was Fauci perfectly and fully transparent here? No. But neither was he saying what Rowe says.
MR: Again, I didn’t accuse Fauci of anything. I didn’t even mention his name. But the fact remains, we have tens of millions of highly skeptical, vaccine-hesitant Americans who no longer trust him. I don’t have to prove or justify their skepticism – it’s real, and the numbers prove it. Forty percent of the country is unvaccinated. Honest question, Jonathan – do you really think those Americans will be persuaded to think differently about the vaccine, when guys like you rush to defend men like Fauci and his “heavily lawyered constructs?”
JL: One more thing: By June, Fauci was admitting that he soft-peddled masks in early March because he was trying to keep people from hoarding them at a moment when the public wasn’t in danger and didn’t need them, but front-line workers were and front-line workers desperately did. Maybe you’re okay with the noble lie and maybe you’re not. But the fact is that people were hoarding them at the time. And if this episode discredited Fauci for you for all time, then there are myriad other health officials who can and have verified the vaccines’ efficacy.
MR: No, I’m not okay with a noble lie, or an ignoble one. Neither are millions of other people, who would prefer to hear the truth. Toward that end, I’m not comfortable telling people the vaccines are “perfectly safe” when the FDA has yet to approve them. As I said, “there is risk in everything, and I find it unpersuasive to pretend otherwise.” As for the vaccine’s efficacy, I could not have been clearer. My exact words on the matter – which you also omitted – were these.
“At this point, I’m afraid the government has but one course of sensible action – get the FDA on board, stat, and then, provide an honest, daily breakdown of just how quickly the virus is spreading among the unvaccinated, versus the vaccinated. No more threats, no more judgments, no more politics, no more celebrity-driven PSA’s, no more ham-fisted attempts at public shaming. Just a steady flow of verifiable data that definitively proves that the vast, undeniable, overwhelming majority of people who get this disease are unvaccinated.”
JL: And of course, if this episode discredited Fauci for you, then I assume that Donald Trump has also been discredited for you because of how he liked “playing down” COVID.
MR: Of course. Donald Trump should have apologized for that, and a few other things as well. Doing so might have made him more credible in the eyes of his many detractors. But Donald Trump, as you may have noticed, is no longer the president. And those now skeptical of the vaccine, are not limited to his former supporters. Far from it. Vaccine hesitancy is alive in well in every major city, particularly among minority populations.
JL: “A return to normalcy would occur just as soon as ‘the most vulnerable’ among us were vaccinated.” I’d like to see a cite for this.
MR: It’s the sentiment, Jonathan. It doesn’t matter who said it. I recall very clearly, a recurring talking point that revolved around “protecting the most vulnerable,” so the rest of us – (the less vulnerable) – could get back to work. If I was trying to build a case against specific individuals, I’d call people out. But that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to remind people that there’s never been a declarative statement about the metrics and circumstances that would allow us all to return to work, school, and play. And that’s a problem.
JL: The most high-profile example I can find making “back to normal predictions” is President Joe Biden who went in the opposite direction. On February 16, 2021, Biden said: “As my mother would say, with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today. A year from now, I think that there’ll be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, having to wear a mask.” At the time, people lost their minds over this estimate because it was so pessimistic. But on February 16, we were still only getting 2.3 million doses administered per day and the government hadn’t yet solved the logistics problem left to it by the previous administration. And by the by, Biden’s pessimistic estimate is looking pretty dead-on right now, isn’t it?
MR: Beats me. I don’t have a crystal ball, and neither does the President. But I am starting to believe that COVID is likely here to stay, in some way, shape or variant. We’re going to have to learn to live with it, and I’m of the belief that doing so will be a lot easier if more people are vaccinated. I could be wrong, but that’s why I wrote what I wrote. I’m pro-vaccine, but anti-mandate. I’m also of the belief that half the country doesn’t trust anything Joe Biden says. You can blame the president for this, or you can call me a liar, or you can blame half the country for being unreasonably skeptical, but either way, this administration – just like the last one – has a massive, self-inflicted, credibility problem. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that. In fact, I think it’s critical that we do, if we hope to make a more persuasive case to those who believe they’ve been lied to.
JL: “Then, just as soon as ‘half the population’ was vaccinated.” Again, I have no idea who “those people” are. The medical and scientific establishments were exceedingly careful in not hanging numbers on what percentage of the population was needed to hit “herd immunity.” Most guesstimates put it in the mid-60s, but just about everyone involved was careful to acknowledge that they were dealing with too many unknowns to be making more than guesstimates.
MR: You’re right – there were lots of guesstimates being thrown around, but I think you’re mistaken about the care that people took to make sure those guesstimates were not taken at face value. The airwaves were filled with various experts and journalists talking with great certainty about the way everything would change when herd immunity was reached. I don’t blame them for being wrong – only for sounding certain. From the start of this mess, politicians, experts, and journalists have all been very long on certainty, and very short on humility. That too, has made them all less credible in the eyes of many.
JL: “Then, just as soon as we achieved ‘herd immunity’.” You know who pushed the idea of “herd immunity” over and over? The COVID deniers and anti-vaxxers. Those people. Those people who wanted to hold “chickenpox parties” for COVID instead of trying to mitigate the spread. Those people who kept insisting that no measures were needed to combat COVID because herd immunity would save us. Those people who declared we should just follow Sweden’s example and fast-forward to herd immunity. Those people whose medical advice in March of 2020 was “Get it. Get immunity. Feel better. The herd triumphs.” Mike Rowe is taking irresponsible bullshit from the bad guys and ascribing it to the good guys in an attempt to discredit them.
MR: Good guys? Bad guys? How shall I respond? With links to Nancy Pelosi, encouraging people to celebrate the Chinese New Year, cheek to jowl? Or Gavin Newsom, dining mask-less with his pals? Or Laurie Lightfoot, getting a haircut when no one else was allowed to? But what’s the point? This is the problem, Jonathan. You’re stuck in a gunfight. White hats and black hats and nothing in between. The point of my post, which you’re working very hard to ignore, is to acknowledge the undeniable fact that millions of Americans see the country exactly as you do – Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. And guess what? No one sees themselves as the Bad Guy. In the words of Dave Mason, “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me and we just disagree.”
JL: “Those are the same people who told us they wouldn’t trust ANY vaccine developed under the last administration.” I’m sure you can find five people on Twitter who said something like it. Maybe even a guest on MSNBC. But show me serious people in the media, in medicine, in research, in politics—anywhere—who said such a thing?
MR: I’m talking here about the millions of Americans who would fundamentally distrust any vaccine recommended by Donald Trump if he were still in office today. If you don’t want to acknowledge that those people exist, please revisit the above quote from Dave Mason. Better yet, listen to it. https://bit.ly/3Cp9IU1 It might cheer you up.
JL: Maybe he’s talking about Kamala Harris? But she said something very different than what Rowe charges. Here’s what she said on September 6: “I would not trust Donald Trump. It would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his word for it.” This is the big gotcha?
MR: No, Jonathan, I wasn’t talking about Harris, and no, it’s not a big “gotcha.” (But, for the record, she did say very clearly on 10/7/21 at the VP debate “If Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dAjCeMuXR0)
Again, I didn’t call her out by name, because it no longer matters if Kamala Harris should have trusted Donald Trump two years ago. What matters now, is that she and Trump and so many others have made themselves fundamentally unpersuasive to many millions of people. The issue at hand is how to persuade vaccine-hesitant Americans to reconsider their hesitancy. I propose we first acknowledge the reasons they distrust those in power and tell them the truth. You seem determined to dismiss their concerns and tell them their mistrust in our institutions is unjustified. With respect, I don’t think that’s going to work.
JL: And for his part, even in the fall of 2020, Joe Biden was worried that Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic was going to make people reluctant to take a future vaccine. Here’s what he said: Why do we think, God willing, when we get a vaccine—that is good, works—why do we think the public is gonna line up to be willing to take the injection? We’ve lost so much confidence, the American people, in what’s said . . .Joe Biden was doing exactly the opposite of what Rowe says “those people” did. He was trying to argue against distrust of vaccines developed under Operation Warp Speed.
MR: That’s pretty rich, Jonathan. If Biden really wanted to champion vaccines in the Fall of 2020, he could have said, “My fellow Americans, I am praying that President Trump succeeds in his efforts to create a safe and effective vaccine in record time. I fully support his efforts to do so, and I am personally committed to doing all I can fight this disease, no matter what it means for my own future in politics.”
But he didn’t say that, Jonathan. Instead, he blamed Trump for creating a massive lack of trust among the American people. I get that. Trump failed badly at getting half the country to trust him. But can’t you see why the other half now sees President Biden in the exact same way?
JL: The reality is that our problem has been the exact opposite. The people who maintained over and over that COVID-19 wasn’t real, that it was an exaggeration, that it was a media conspiracy to hurt the Orange God King—many of those people now won’t take the vaccine because it has been administered by the new administration.
MR: How then, do you explain this, from the CDC. “Black and Hispanic people remain less likely than their White counterparts to have received a vaccine, leaving them at increased risk, particularly as the variant spreads.” https://bit.ly/2VA9Cs7 Weird, right? Did all those Black and Hispanic folks worship the Orange God King too?
JL: If Mike Rowe doesn’t want to encourage people to get vaccinated, that’s his right. That’s his privilege. But to go out in public and misrepresent recent history in an attempt to discredit vaccines is reprehensible.
MR: What’s reprehensible, and cowardly, is your attempt to mischaracterize what I wrote, and deliberately misinform your readers. If I really wanted to discourage people from getting vaccinated, why would I admit to getting vaccinated myself? And why would I write the passage you deliberately omitted? Here it is again, lest your readers forget it. “Vaccines have saved more lives than any other advancement in the long history of medicine, and to your point, I got the shots the minute I was eligible. – Mike Rowe.
JL: Rowe says he wants people to make their own decisions. Great. I celebrate everyone’s choices. But they should make them without Mike Rowe lying to them about the real things which happened in the real world.
MR: I’m happy to let the readers make up their own minds about who’s telling the truth. But let’s be clear about what you’ve done with your little slice of the Internet. You have ignored the point of my original post, omitted key passages regarding my actual position on vaccines, written a damning and fallacious headline, and picked a fight with a guy who just reminded six million people that the overwhelming majority of Americans currently hospitalized with COVID have not been vaccinated. Oh yeah, AND told them that he got the shot as soon as he was able.
That was the point of my post, Jonathan.
What was the point of yours?